Saturday, 27 April 2013

Days Five and Six: Sound, Tea, Gossip and Fabrics

Apologies for the lack of blog yesterday, I planned a very full programme for the week and just didn't get a chance to write.
Yesterday was my penultimate day here at the museum, and it began with my third year tutor Tom Hall paying me a visit. It was great to be able to discuss the intricacies of the project in situ and thrash out ideas of where I go from here, Tom is fantastically enthusiastic and always full of suggestions and advice and an incredibly busy man, so I appreciated him taking the time out to come and see me.
The morning saw me install a sound piece in to the space, based on what doesn't occur in the room now. Three artefacts had repeatedly caught my attention: the long case clock, the square piano and the fireplace, all of which were designed for a specific purpose and all were no longer used in that way, whether for reasons of conservation or health and safety. So it occurred to me that it would be interesting for the public to experience them again through sound, so I amalgamated the sounds of a fire burning, a clock ticking and authentic music of the time being played on the correct kind of instrument. It's amazing what you can find on iTunes!

The afternoon was an incredible amount of fun and although I am a twenty first century kind of girl, I actually felt transported back to the time period. I hosted a tea party, with all the trimmings including biscuits made from the book by Elizabeth Raffald, a Georgian housekeeper. Myself, visitors and friends sat around our elaborate table, played Cribbage and gossiped until late into the afternoon. I am sure Mrs. King would have enjoyed it too.

The evening was the Private View and the room was lit as it would have been in the Georgian period, to allow the guests to appreciate the architecture in a different light. The wonderful De returned to sing and it was a great opportunity to be able to thank everyone for putting their trust in me.

So, on to today and it is going to be a day of fabrics. The King family were Mercers, traders in cloth and records have been found to show their dealings with all the local estates for furnishings and material for staff. I have placed a display of my interpretation of the fabrics they may have dealt with and this afternoon I will be conducting a fabric printing workshop, so if you are around, call in to see me and have a go!

Thanks for following this blog over the last week, and please keep checking in as the end of my degree is in sight and there will be many more projects to follow in future.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Day Four, a day of experiments

A blog in sections today, as I am here, there and everywhere, so apologies for the disjointed entry....
It is the start of the day and I am waiting to begin a day of working with the museums's education programme by encouraging people to come to the museum and work with me and the collection. I am hoping that people will drop in all day and be able to participate in all the elements that I have prepared. The main event today will be asking the audience to draw specific pieces of the collection, but their only reference will be a description I have written and by listening to my singer De's sung version too.
I have no idea if this will work as a concept, but it will be interesting to see how each person interprets it and I have prepared many opportunities for people to feedback information via sheets and I will also try and persuade them to let me film them. It has surprised me how reticent people are to be filmed, even with assurances that it will only be seen for research purposes. Is it just the thought of being captured on camera or that people are wary of their comments being verbalised? Interesting....
So we will see how it goes today and I'm sure I will have a lot of valuable information for my research by the end of the day.

A very interesting day, I was fortunate enough to have people dropping in all day - friends, colleagues, students and visitors all eager to see what I was up to and very willing to participate in the various aspects of the project that I have built up over the week. People found the drawing experiment quite difficult but as many of them said to me afterwards, once their pencil had touched the paper they were off on an exploration of shape and context. Most found that they would be more careful in future to consider an artefact rather than dismiss it and everyone said that it was an interesting project and made them feel included in the room and the museum as a whole.

So I am off now to my 'day' job at Walford Mill Crafts, where I will be teaching a class tonight, but I am looking forward to tomorrow which will consist of sound, display and a tea party!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Day Three, live from The Priest's House

So, my blogging 'view' today is a little different. Usually I am sat at my desk, inspirational pictures pinned to the wall ahead of me, but today I am lucky to have a live view of the beautiful gardens of the museum.

Also I am testing out my technology and using my iPad to blog for the first time, so it will be interesting to see whether I can grapple with it and find a good 3G signal to be able to upload!

Today is a relatively quiet day in terms of my project and a day for experimenting and reflecting. I have installed three white plinths in the room today which house three different screen prints of three different artefacts from the room. I have attached plaques which describe the objects from a curatorial point of view and instructions encouraging the visitors to take a print away with them. The purpose is to get the audience to think about what they take away with them from a visit to a museum and what information they retain when they have left.

I was a little uncertain as to whether this idea would work or not, and how much encouragement the visitors would need to participate but I am glad to say that one of the first sets of visitors through the door were very interested in what I was doing, and were more than happy to have a 'souvenir' of the room.

Today I am also lucky to be having a reflective meeting with the Head Curator, Emma Ayling and no doubt we will discuss at length the various aspects of museum display, audience and interaction. I am looking forward to taking some of her very precious time talking about my project and making plans for the future.

I am also looking forward to tomorrow, as I get the opportunity to work with the museum's education programme, but more about that in my next post....

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Day Two and the singing begins!

It isn't difficult to understand people's trepidation when they hear that an artist is going to 'curate', 'intervene' or 'interpret' within a traditional museum space. So today was always going to challenge the visitors but it gave me a fantastic opportunity to gain some honest feedback.
I am fortunate to know some wonderfully talented people and for today's project I called on the skills of my friend and fellow artist Deirdre Ashton as she adds choral singer to her list of attributes.
One of the first avenues I wanted to explore with this project, was to ask if it was necessary to learn about an artefact, just by looking at it. Was it possible to find another way of describing it, without it being in front of the spectator? The joy of working with someone who thinks like you, is when you approach them and you say 'I'm thinking about getting you to sing the collection', they say 'Fantastic, when do you want me?' De not only responded like this but brought a wealth of ideas to the concept too, including the flexibility of adapting what we thought would work as we went along.

So we began this morning, having planned three performances during the day, and I had written for De, descriptions of five specific pieces of the Georgian collection which she proceeded to deliver in a variety of singing styles. After each of the days performances which I filmed, I also sought the opinions of willing members of her audience in order to ascertain what they thought about the project as a whole.

Between performances, in order that the room was not left abandoned, I assembled a variety of footage for the visitors to watch.

Now as an artist, feedback is always valuable, regardless of whether it is positive or negative. In fact, as long as it is given constructively, it isn't really possible to get a purely negative response as it is an opinion and can be worked on and responded to. I was aware that throughout this residency, I was not going to have a 100% agreement with what I was proposing, but that that was the point, to gain the audience's opinion. Today I have had both, but thought that I would share one visitor's written feedback as it is as valid as anyone's and will be something for the museum to consider in future.

I quite understand that not everyone enjoys sound, no matter how it is delivered and this, together with the film I have gathered today, provides me with excellent framework to present my findings to the museum. Come back tomorrow to find out how Day Three's project was received...

Monday, 22 April 2013

First day of the project

The first day of months of planning and I felt both excited and nervous to be embarking on this project in conjunction with The Priest's House Museum. The enormity had hit me over the weekend when I was asked to do a radio interview and I actually described what I was doing to an audience who had no prior experience of me or my work, so I arrived at the museum hoping that everything I had stated I would happen on day one, would be achievable.
My mission today was to clear The Georgian Parlour of all artefacts, which I realise sounds odd in the context of a museum, but in order to experiment with all my ideas this week, I needed to start with a 'blank canvas'. James Webb, deputy curator, assigned curatorial volunteers Mike and Eileen Carter to work with me, both for their extensive working knowledge of the time period and as they were part of the team that assisted in the restoration of the room and setting of the display in the early '90's.

So this was the arrangement at the start of the day and I realised that I was asking a lot to have the room cleared but Mike, Eileen and James were more than happy to help and humour this artist's unorthodox plans. One of the unexpected pleasures of the day has been learning some curatorial skills of how to handle artefacts, how to safely move them for storage and having the privilege to view the fabulous new store rooms, complete with lift!

One of the biggest jobs of the day, was to carefully remove the two mannequins, store one upstairs in the attic (with some very strange looks from the visitors while we were carrying the 'body' up the narrow stairs) and to 'de-robe' the second and re-dress the replica costume on to a new display mannequin.

Eileen kindly spent a long time explaining the history of the garments, how she made them and their significance to Mrs King, whose life they help to narrate.
At the end of a long day of curation, I was left to arrange the few items I had requested be left behind and I spent the remainder of the day watching the visitors navigate the space. In the original setting, a barrier had been put in place to prevent handling the precious objects, but one of my principal ideas had been to remove it and let the audience enter the room and move around freely. It was therefore interesting to note that in the newly open space, every visitor made straight for the window at the back of the room. Whether this is a human compulsion to orient ourselves to the outside of a building and its surroundings or because there are beautiful gardens beyond to view, I couldn't ascertain but all of the visitors were direct in their mission, to go up to the glass and peer out into the world beyond.

So here is how I left the room at the end of the day, ready for tomorrow's experiments where the wonderful Deirdre Ashton will be singing the collection in the room. I hope you return to this blog tomorrow to hear all about it.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

An Artist's Shopping List

No, not milk, bread and sugar, the list of diverse items that I have been having to search for this week in preparation for my residency at The Priest's House Museum. As this is probably the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken, it has thrown up an equally ambitious list of requirements for all the themes I intend to explore when I am there.
Not wishing to give too many of my ideas away before the event, I will try to provide a glimpse of what I have in mind for my week's residency and some of the bizarre things I have had to go in search for.
My main intention while I am there, is to get the visitors to become more engaged with the room again, and I hope to do this by considering the room's original purpose and providing a variety of presentations to spark their imaginations. As The Georgian Parlour was inhabited by a Mrs King during the late 1700's, I have been looking into her life, her and her husband's occupation as Mercers and their occupancy of the room. There are some fantastic social history books available now and each has provided me with a variety of ideas to explore including considering what fabrics were sold by the family to the wider community, what furniture the Kings' would have had in the room, what pastimes would have been enjoyed by the family and what they would have had for tea! So my shopping list this week has been as follows:
1 x pack of replica 18th century playing cards (next to impossible to find, except in Holland?)
An assortment of battery powered candles (so as not to burn the museum down at an evening viewing)
The rules to a variety of card games
A recipe for Plum Cake
Tea Set designs in the 18th century
Teak wood fabric printing blocks
Georgian interior colour charts
2 x lecterns made to my specifications
5 x plinths (see above, very patient fiance)
A printing company that won't charge the earth for a short run of postcards
Loomstate cotton
The history of potpourri
and acid free tissue paper
I suppose in the grand scheme, it's not the most peculiar list when you consider one of my classmates has been searching for rubber goldfish in the US, but I'm betting that not many professions can boast such a diverse range of required equipment!
More information soon, 13 days to go...